Access to power is the fundamental right of every Afghan regardless of his or her ethnic affiliation. But to expect a stringent and rigorously executed formula giving equal shares in power to all ethnic groups is simply unrealistic, and expecting all or a majority of every ethnic group to consent to “moderate representatives” picked for them by the “International Community” is bizarre. The whole idea expressed in Farhad Arian’s article ‘Can power-sharing build the consensus necessary for peace in Afghanistan?’ of getting the “International Community” to enforce a new political system at best negates one of the fundamental lessons development practitioners and policy-makers have long ago learned – “local ownership” – and at worst borders on a straightforwardly colonial mentality.
In this light, let us take stock of a few important decisions the so-called International Community (I am uneasy using such a broad term for a disjointed constituency, but I will come back to that later) has made for Afghanistan in the past 11 years, and assess their impact.
The author makes reference to the Bonn Conference of 2001, which essentially was the expression of American wishes, from the selection of its location to the choice of participants and most importantly its outputs: an Interim Administration and a political roadmap for two years. Enough has been said about how flawed the Bonn Process was – even Mr Arian mentions the imbalanced representation. But I will highlight one outcome: we are stuck with a political system that is widely seen as a significant instigator of tension in Afghanistan.
As an employee of the Constitutional Drafting and Review Commissions, I can attest to the shortsightedness of our leadership, but more importantly to the ignorance and arrogance of the International Community in the whole constitution-making process. It is important to know that our Drafting Commission – comprised of nine extremely respectable Afghan legal experts – had proposed a parliamentary system.
Subsequently, we conducted a public consultation process – not an ideal one – whose results were staggering: 33% were in favor of a constitutional monarchy versus 24% for the presidential system. The results of this process were undemocratically annulled by the “International Community”, instrumentalizing UNAMA to intervene. UNAMA sent a team led by Eckart Schiewek to replace the original architect of the process, Waheed Omer, prompting publication of a largely confusing and misleading report. All because the “International Community”, US in particular, despises dealing with a myriad of decision-making bodies and layers of institutions, preferring to seek a “one-window operation”.
The second issue with this article is that the author comes across as light on the literature on elites, development and military interventions. James MacGregor Burns identifies two types of leadership, the transactional and the transforming:
The relations of most leaders and followers are transactional—leaders approach followers with an eye to exchanging one thing for another: jobs for votes, or subsidies for campaign contributions. Such transactions comprise the bulk of the relationships among leaders and followers, especially in groups, legislatures, and parties. Transforming leadership, while more complex, is more potent. The transforming leader recognizes and exploits an existing need or demand of a potential follower. But, beyond that, the transforming leader looks for potential motives in followers, seeks to satisfy higher needs, and engages the full person of the follower. The result of transforming leadership is a relationship of mutual stimulation and elevation that converts followers into leaders and may convert leaders into moral agents.
It is mainly the former trend that can be traced in the relationship between interveners and their client states, because there is almost no room for transforming leadership in this equation. The rentier relationship necessitates transactional behaviour, not transformational behaviour. The latter is too slow and painstaking for the intervener. The intervener needs its clients to behave in a particular way, or perform certain actions, without wasting time in exchange for monetary, diplomatic, military and technical support. To sustain such a relationship, the intervener works through a network of both “executive” and “non-executive” elites who are enthused by the immediate benefits of the new order and have almost nil trust in its sustainability.
In the post 9/11 era, the US has broadly encouraged and exploited such transactional behavior to achieve its goals. Many states in Central and Eastern Europe, South and Central Asia, Middle East and North Africa have rushed to be part of the new clientalist regime. Pakistan exchanges wanted “terrorists” for bounties, Central Asian states have provided bases for US’s “War on Terror” in exchange for aid and diplomatic recognition, a number of Middle Eastern and European states provided torture and transportation facilities for the alleged terrorists against international and domestic laws in exchange for the goodwill of the sole superpower and its allies.
This arrangement is less costly and does not require a sustained commitment. It also shrugs off those who genuinely believe in democracy and embody liberal values, but represent a tiny section of the society – or at least that is the case in Afghanistan – and cannot muster and command a violent militia force. This section of society may even be an obstacle to interveners’ plans, as we know from the literature on “developmental and predatory” leaders. Yama Torabi argues that
[T]here is a real political utility, in a post-war situation, in exchange between the interveners and the local leaders, beneficial to both categories. Interveners can use rapidly reinforced local leadership to respond to the urgent need of engaging with local population where political institutions have collapsed. It allows them to extend the goals of the intervention (reconstruction, war on terror, liberal peace) without excessive investment, even when the motivations of the two groups differ. However, interveners need to compromise on their agendas to some extent in such a situation.
This is exactly why the White House followed the CIA’s plan as opposed to the Pentagon’s to invade Afghanistan. Drawing from James Mann’s history of the Bush administration, PBS reports that in October 2001 “the CIA has the war plan for Afghanistan. It's nimble and flexible. The Army is sidelined – its plan would have taken too long and too many troops”. In contrast local elites – warlords and militia commanders – were integral to the CIA’s war plan.
On the other hand, why should the existing elite relinquish power for people with no popular base, or in the words of the opposition leader and former Afghan Spy Chief Amrullah Saleh “a bunch of rootless individuals”? Pareto wrote that elites are either “foxes” or “lions”, implying that they either rule by “cunning” or “force”. In Afghanistan, it is the “warlords, commanders and militant Mullahs” who have mastered both these traits over a period of forty years. So why should they be prepared to share the culmination of a forty-year period, in which they invested with blood and sweat? Mr Arian’s proposition becomes even more unrealistic when we consider that the International Community is disengaging rapidly with clearly no interest in the future elite set up of the country.
More crucially, we Afghans need to develop a sense for constitutionalism. It is particularly disturbing to see the “enlightened class” – as the educated and liberal groups in Afghanistan describe themselves – propagating unconstitutional measures. To enact the author’s proposition we will need to alter our constitution, and for that to happen we will have to have a Loya Jirga according to Section 2 of Article 110 of Afghanistan’s Constitution. We cannot have a Loya Jirga because we have not elected our District Councils yet.
We are already going through a perilous constitutional crisis. Every single Afghan law is unconstitutional and thus non-binding because all laws have to be ratified by the Senate, the third of whose members should come from the elected District Councils according to Section 2 of Article 84 of the Afghan Constitution. Since we do not have them, our senate and all its decisions are unconstitutional. I believe a realization of constitutionalism is important or we will slip into a chaos resembling the early 1990s. Since there is no other framework to work within right now, if we want to change the system we should do it within the current constitutional framework.
Finally, putting all the international actors in one basket and calling it the “International Community”, expecting all of them to act in concert with each other in an altruistic manner, is futile. Ahmed Rashid’s account of the fractured nature of US government, as detailed in “Descent Into Chaos”, is a testament to this claim. And I have experienced first hand how bitterly the actors within the International Community contest and compete with each other.
It gets even worse: it is not the civilians who will be in charge of Project Afghanistan post-2014, it will be a CIA – and partially Pentagon-led – venture which essentially means working closely with their “good guys” such as the notorious “Kandahar Strike Force” or infamous warlords such as Abdul Rashid Dostum. After all, President Obama’s goal in Afghanistan “is not to build a country in America's image, or to eradicate every vestige of the Taliban. These objectives would require many more years, many more dollars, and many more American lives. Our goal is to destroy al Qaeda, and we are on a path to do exactly that”. This can only be achieved through a “hybrid security” arrangement, which in practice means working together with none other than the current Afghan elite.